A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 5

Southern Schools of Śaivism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1955 | 79,816 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the shaiva ideas of manikka-vachakar in the tiru-vachaka: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “shaiva philosophy in some of the important texts”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - The Śaiva Ideas of Māṇikka-vāchakar in the Tiru-vāchaka

In the present work the writer has refrained from utilising material from a Dravidian language such as Tamil, Telegu, and Kanarese. This is due to more than one reason. The first is that the writer has no knowledge of the Dravidian languages, and it is too late for him to acquire it, as it might take a whole life time to do so. The second is that this history in all its past volumes has only taken note of material available in Sanskrit. Thirdly, so far as the present author can judge, there is hardly anything of value from the philosophical point of view in Dravidian literature which is unobtainable through Sanskrit. A Tamil work could, however, be taken in hand, if there were any trustworthy translation of it, and if the work were of any great reputation. It is fortunate that Māṇikka-vāchakar’s Tiru-vāchaka, which is held in very high esteem, has a trustworthy translation by the Rev. G. U. Pope, who devoted his life to the study of Tamil, and may be regarded as a very competent scholar in that language. It appears that Tamil was particularly rich in poetry, and we have many devotional songs both in Tamil and in Kanarese, but I do not know of any systematic philosophical work either in Tamil or in Kanarese which is not presented in Sanskrit. The Tamil literature also abounds in mythical and legendary accounts of many of the saints, which go by the name of Purāṇas, such as Periya-purāṇa and Tiru-vātavurār-purāṇa, Nampiyāṇḍār-nampi-purāṇa and Sekkilar-purāṇa.

Tiru-vāchaka is a book of poems by Māṇikka-vāchakar. It is full of devotional sentiments and philosophical ideas, but it is not a system of philosophy in the modern sense of the term. Pope wishes to place Māṇikka-vāchakar in about the seventh or eight century, apparently without any evidence. R. W. Frazer, in his article on Dravidians[1], places him in the ninth century, also without any evidence. Māṇikka-vāchakar is supposed to have been born near Madura. The meaning of his name is “he whose utterances are rubies.” He is supposed to have been a prodigy of intellect and was a consummate scholar in the Brahmanical learning and the Śaivāgamas. These Āgamas, as we have pointed out elsewhere, are written in Sanskrit verses and also in Tamil. It appears, therefore, that the background of Māṇikka-vāchakar’s thought was in Sanskrit. The mythical story about Māṇikka-vāchakar, available in the Tiru-vilaiyāḍil and in the Vātavuror -purāṇa as summarised by Pope, need not detain us here. We find that he renounced the position of a minister of the king and became a Śaiva ascetic. His mind was oppressed with the feeling of sadness for all people around him, who were passing through the cycles of birth and death, and had no passionate love for Śiva which alone could save them. This state of his mental agitation, and the confession of his ignorance and youthful folly, are specially described in some of his poems.

Later on Śiva Himself meets him, and from that time forward he becomes a disciple of Śiva. Śiva appears before him with His three eyes, His body smeared with ashes, and holding a book in His hand called Śiva-jñāna-bodha, the well-known work of Meykaṇḍadeva. Pope himself admits that the Śiva-jñāna-bodha could not have been written by the sixth century A.D., the supposed date of Māṇikka-vāchakar[2].

In the course of his career he travelled from shrine to shrine until he came to Chidambaram, where in a discussion he completely discomfited the Buddhists, partly by logic and partly by the demonstration of miraculous powers. He then returned to other devotees and set up a liṅgam under a tree and worshipped it day and night. It was from that time that he began his poetical compositions which are full of the glory of Śiva and His grace.

A study of his poems reveals the gradual evolution of his mind through various states of repentance, afflictions, sadness, and his extreme devotedness and love for Śiva. Pope, in commenting on the poetry of Māṇikka-vāchakar, says “scarcely ever has the longing of the human soul for purity and peace and divine fellowship found worthier expression[3].”

The fact of the omnipresence of God is often expressed in the Śaiva songs as the sport of Śiva. The whole universe is bright with his smile and alive with his joyous movements. This idea is so much overstressed that Śiva is often called a deceiver and a maniac, and in the Pāśupata system the Pāśupata ascetics are advised to behave like mad people, dancing about and even deceiving others into thinking of them as bad people, and making all kinds of noise and laughing in an irrelevant manner. It is also supposed that Śiva would often try the loyalty of his devotees in various forms of manifestations, trying to represent Himself in an exceedingly unfavourable light. The dancing of Śiva is particularly symbolical of his perpetual gracious actions throughout the universe and in loving hearts. He reminds one of the pre-Aryan demon dancers in the burning grounds.

We assume that the teaching of Māṇikka-vāchakar is in consonance with the teaching of the Śiva-jñāna-bodha, which was composed at a later date. Umāpati has a commentary on the Śiva-jñāna-bodha which has been translated by Hoisington in the American Oriental Society Journal of 1895. In this book various types of liberation are described. Distinguishing the Śaiva view from other views, one may find a number of variations in conception in the different Śaiva schools. Some of these variations have already been noted in the different sections of Southern Śaivism. There are many who think that the innate corruptions of the soul can be removed, and this may lead to a permanent release from all bonds (pāśa). The Śaiva-siddhānta, however, insists that even in this liberated state the potentiality of corruption remains, though it may not be operative. It remains there in the soul as a permanent dark spot. So the personal identity and the imperfections cling together in all finite beings, and they are never destroyed even in liberation. Other sectarian Śaivas, however, think that by the grace of Śiva the innate corruptions of the soul may be removed, from which it necessarily follows that there may be permanent release from all bonds. There are other Śaivas who think that in liberation the soul acquires miraculous powers, and that the liberated persons are partakers of divine nature and attributes, and are able to gain possession of, and exercise, miraculous powers called siddhi. There are others who think that in emancipation the soul becomes as insensible as a stone. This apathetic existence is the refuge of the soul from the suffering and struggle of the cycle of births and rebirths. We have already mentioned most of these ideas of liberation in a more elaborate manner in the relevant sections. But according to Māṇikka-vāchakar the soul is finally set free from the influence of threefold defilement through the grace of Śiva, and obtains divine wisdom, and so rises to live eternally in the conscious, full enjoyment of Śiva’s presence and eternal bliss. This is also the idea of the Siddhānta philosophy[4].

A great pre-eminence is given to the idea of the operation of divine grace (called arul in Tamil) in the Śaiva Siddhānta. The grace is divine or mystic wisdom, to dissipate the impurities of the āṇava-mala and to show the way of liberation. The souls are under the sway of accumulated karma, and it is by the grace of the Lord that the souls of men, in a state of bondage in the combined state, are let loose and find their place in suitable bodies for gradually working out and ultimately attaining liberation. Through all the stages, grace is the dynamic force that gradually ennobles the pilgrim towards his final destination. The grace of Śiva through the operation of His energy (śakti) affords light of understanding, by which people perform their actions of life and accumulate their karma and experience joys and sufferings. The material world is unconscious and the souls have no knowledge of their own nature. It is only by the grace of Śiva that the individuals understand their state and acquire the mystic knowledge by which they can save themselves; yet no one knows the grace of Śiva and how it envelops him, though he is endowed with all sense perceptions. From beginningless time the individuals have been receiving the grace of God, but they have seldom come under its influence, and are thus devoid of the right approach to the way to deliverance.

The grace can be observed as operative when the proper guru comes and advises the person to follow the right course. When the opposition of sins and merits is counter-balanced, Siva’s emancipating grace begins to show its work. In order to be saved, one should know the spiritual essence of karma and the twofold kinds of karma, and the joys and sorrows which are associated with them, and the Lord Who brings the deeds to maturity at the appointed time so that the soul may experience their effects.

Just as a crystal reflects many colours under the sun’s light and yet retains its own transparent character, so the energy or wisdom obtained as a grace of the Lord irradiates the soul and permeates the world. Without the mystic wisdom obtained through the grace of Śiva, no one can obtain real knowledge. The soul is unintelligent without Śiva. All the actions of souls are performed with the active guidance of Śiva, and even the perception of the senses as instruments of knowledge is owed to Siva’s grace.

In the second stage we are taught how to apply knowledge for the cleansing of the soul. Those who endure the delusive sufferings of worldly experience would naturally seek relief in the grace of God as soon as they became convinced of their impurities. To a jaundiced person even sweet milk appears bitter, but if the tongue is cleansed the bitterness is gone; so under the influence of the original impurities all religious observances are distasteful, but when these impurities are removed then the teachings of the guru become operative.

What cannot be perceived by the senses, supreme bliss, is known by the operation of grace in a spiritual manner. The grace of God is spontaneously revealed to us. The supreme felicity is thus a gift of grace which souls cannot obtain of themselves.

Only those who are introduced to this grace can combine with Siva in bliss. There is a curious notion that the souls are feminine and so is the śakti or energy, and Śiva is the Lord with whom there is a mystic unification. Siva is perfect bliss. If there is a mystic union between the soul and the Lord, then they should become one, leaving the duality between the soul and God unexplained; it has to be assumed, therefore, that they both become one and remain divided. When the bonds are removed the devotee becomes one with God in speechless rapture, and there is no scope for him to say that he has obtained Śiva. Those who obtain release, and those who attain the state of samādhi, are never torn asunder from the Lord. In that state all their physical actions are under the complete control of the Lord. There thus comes a state when the knower, the mystic knowledge, and the Śiva appear no more as distinct, but as absorbed in one another.

Though those who enter this state of samādhi gain omniscience and other qualities, yet while they are on this earth they know nothing whatever except the supreme Lord, the object of their mystic knowledge. All their sense-organs are restrained and sink deep into their source and do not show themselves. Within and without the divine grace stands revealed. In this mystic enlightenment the phenomenal universe is only seen in God.

In the Vātavurār-purāṇam as translated by Pope there is an account of the controversy of Māṇikka-vāchakar with the Buddhist teachers in Chidambaram. The controversy does not manifest any great knowledge of Buddhism on either side. The disputation hangs round this or that minor point and lacks logical co-ordination, so that it is unprofitable to follow it up. It is also extremely doubtful if that controversy were in any way responsible for the loss of prestige on the side of Buddhist thought, which must have been due, from the ninth century onwards, to the rise of various South Indian sects which quarrelled with each other, and also, mainly, to political reasons.

Footnotes and references:


In Hastings’ Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.


Śiva-jñāna-bodha is supposed to have been written by Meykaṇḍadeva in or about A.D. 1223. See article on Dravidians by Frazer in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.


Pope’s translation, p. xxxiv.


Pope, loc. cit. p. xliv.

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